Rural communities are experiencing intense development pressure. Greene County , for example, is the 5 th fastest growing upstate county in New York State . This is reflected in the trend of primary and second homeowners migrating from urban centers to rural, upstate communities and is causing an escalation in development pressure. Major negative impacts will occur if public policies are not developed that reflect an understanding of sustainable growth principles to preserve forests and their ecosystems services. Sustainable growth principles include the need to better understand and manage the relationship between cultural practices of private forest owners versus public amenity values, including open space and ecologically and visually viable landscapes. The Agroforestry Resource Center (ARC) provides a forum for diverse groups to find common ground and can serve to facilitate “smart growth” anti-sprawl development strategies.
Because of New York State ‘s home rule authority, local policy makers play a critical role in the planning and regulations that influence the sustainability of their community’s natural resources, including forests. Unfortunately many communities do not identify forest land as a valuable, renewable natural resource in their comprehensive plans. In addition local policy makers also need sound information concerning the long term sustainability of other related topics such as watershed protection and general natural resource assessment. Therefore local policy makers need information to assist them in understanding the value of the natural rural landscape including forested land and translating this information into sound local decisions.
In New York State over 62% of the landscape is forested, a 23% increase since 1953.In the Catskill Hudson region the rate climbs to 84%. Statewide forest land totals more than 18.5 million acres. The wise use of forests is crucial to the health and well being of the rural communities where they occur and influence neighboring regions that also benefit from the assets of forested lands. These assets include a source of clean drinking water, scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and income derived from timber use in wood products as well as the role agroforestry or forest farming contributes.
The Agroforestry Resource Center in its first two years has held numerous speaker series and programs in order to provide local policy makers pertinent information to assist them in making wise land use decisions. Topics ranging from the role of forestry in a healthy rural economy, understanding the value of biodiversity for policy makers, real estate transactions and residential preferences and impacts on land use in the post 9/11 world and building a balance in the areas of housing affordability, environmental protection and smart land use decisions have all been offered at the ARC with the intention of providing local policy makers the tools that can help them better understand these issues.
Many of these programs have included Cornell University staff and other regional professionals to ensure the best information is provided. Looking to the future we are developing new programs relating to municipal officials understanding of forestry, non point source pollution, and how to develop the skills to conduct a biodiversity assessment in your community. These programs will be designed to provide local and regional policy makers the tools and information to ensure our rural landscapes continue to provide the viable sustainable natural assets we all depend on.